“Why not take some inspiration from one of the world’s most delicious beef recipes – beef rendang – and use it to make brisket?” That’s a question I pondered about a month or so ago. I was thinking about my Passover menu, which always includes brisket. So I did some research and recipe testing and developed this recipe for beef rendang brisket. Holidays are not necessarily the best times to mess with tradition and I knew everyone would be expecting me to make the usual Nach Waxman brisket, which is fabulous. But I chanced it and served beef rendang brisket at our Seder….
Rendang is a rich coconut-based curry that originated from West Sumatra, Indonesia. It’s served there mostly on special occasions. Traditionally, the beef is cut into cubes and stewed, long and slow, with coconut milk and a curry paste made from ginger, lemongrass, garlic, chiles, shallots and a few other aromatics and dried spices. Often the meat is braised until it’s completely dry and only the intensely flavorful oils, from the beef and the coconut, are left in the pot. That oil is then used to brown the beef, as a final step in the recipe.
I took lots of inspiration from the dozens of beef rendang recipes I studied and I applied the most delicious elements of beef rendang to what I already know about how to make a great brisket.
Here’s how the beef rendang brisket recipe goes:
You start by making a flavorful spice paste in the food processor with chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, spices and a few tablespoons of the thick coconut cream that rises to the top of the can of coconut milk. The first time I made the curry paste I seeded all 7 chile peppers. The second time I left the seeds in 2 out of the 7 peppers for more heat. I preferred the hotter paste.
Then you brown the brisket in some oil.
Next you remove the brisket from the pot and add the spice paste in. That gets cooked for a few minutes to create another layer of flavor. The paste comes out of the pot and you throw in a bunch of sliced onions. Sauté those a bit, add the rest of the coconut milk, set the brisket on top, and coat the brisket – top and sides – with the spice paste.
Scatter the kaffir lime leaves (if you can find them) and cinnamon sticks around. Cover the pot and put it in the oven for a long slow braise, with some basting along the way.
The result is tender beef with some seriously exciting flavors and a nice kick. It made quite an impression at my seder table – lots of “mmmms,” “wows,” and second helpings.
Some of us are tied to our holiday traditions. I do have certain established recipes for Passover that I’m pretty sure will never change. Chicken soup with matzo balls is one. Also, fresh horseradish with beets. Passover would feel empty without them. But somehow it felt ok to stray from my customary brisket this year, and it was fun having something exciting and new to tantalize our tastebuds. I also love that we were eating a dish at Passover that comes from a country where there are practically no Jewish people. Food is universal language that brings us together as a global community. No matter where we live or what we believe, we can all share in the pleasures of great food and appreciate each other’s cooking.
Brisket, by the way, is not just for Passover. It’s the perfect thing to serve when your hosting any elaborate meal for a large crowd because you can make it way ahead of time. It freezes well and it just gets better and better every time you reheat it.
Here’s the recipe for beef rendang brisket. If you make it, I hope you’ll come back and leave a comment to let me know what you think.
- 5-6 pound first cut brisket
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cooking oil, divided (olive, canola, or your favorite)
- 2 tablespoons of flour or matzo meal, optional
- Spice Paste:
- 7-8 red Holland chilies (or substitute red Fresno or Cayenne) stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped. If you want some added heat, leave the seeds in one or two of the chilies.
- 4-5 large shallots, roughly chopped (1½ cups)
- 4-5 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (4 tablespoons)
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped ginger, from a 3-inch piece
- 3 stalks lemongrass, a couple of tough outer layers pulled off, sliced crosswise into ⅓-inch slices (white part only). Here's a post with a helpful photo and explanation of how to prepare lemongrass.
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
- 1 can unsweetened coconut milk, divided
- Other Ingredients:
- 2 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced into ⅓-inch rings
- 2 4-inch cinnamon sticks
- 5-6 Kaffir lime leaves (optional but recommended - you can find them fresh or frozen at many Asian grocery stores and some mainstream supermarkets.
- Make the Spice Paste: Put the chilis, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, salt and cloves into the bowl of a food processor with the chopping blade attached. Add 4 tablespoons of the thick coconut cream from the top of the can of coconut milk. Pulse everything until you get smooth, thick paste, in which you can still make out the texture of finely minced peppers.
- Brown and Prepare the Brisket: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Dust the brisket with flour or matzo meal, if using. (it helps with browning but is not essential) Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat, in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, with a lid. Add the brisket and brown it for about 5 minutes per side. It won't be uniformly brown but there should be some nice brown spots over the surface. Transfer the meat to a plate. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot and spread it out with a spatula. Add the spice paste and cook it, stirring often, for 4-5 minutes, until it starts to brown. Transfer the paste to a bowl. Add the final teaspoon of oil to the pot with the sliced onions. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the onions have softened a bit. Pour the remaining coconut milk over the onions and stir. Place the brisket on top of the onions. Coat the top and sides of the brisket with the spice paste, using the back of a spoon to smooth it out evenly. Scatter the lime leaves and cinnamon sticks around. Cover the pot and cook it in the center of the oven for 30 minutes.
- Braise and Baste: Turn the oven temperature down to 325ºF. Gently baste the brisket with some of the coconut sauce. Return it to the oven for 2 hours, basting every hour.
- Remove the pot from the oven but leave the oven on. Gently transfer the brisket to a cutting board and, with a sharp knife, slice it thinly (1/8-inch) across the grain. Transfer the sliced meat back into the pot. If you can, keep it in it's original shape. Baste it, separating the slices a bit so the sauce gets in between. Cover the pot and return it to the oven for a final half hour of cooking.
- Serve hot. It reheats really well and freezes really well. Defrost and reheat in a 325º oven, covered, for 45 minutes or so.
I did a lot of research for this post but one of the books that was most helpful was Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland – a wonderful book about home cooking from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. I also owe a lot of my brisket expertise to what I learned from Nach Waxman and his genius brisket recipe.